I’ve noticed something in recent months that disturbs me and I think it’s probably only going to get worse than to get better. While I won’t give specifics or web addresses, you may have heard of it anyway.
Not long ago I ran across a left-wing website that had published the private email response from a rightwing personality. The long of the short of it is that someone from the website (I assume the blog’s author) exchanged emails with the personality, and not finding satisfaction in the exchange, decided to simply publish the private correspondence for all the world to see.
And that’s my problem. I isn’t necessarily what the two parties were arguing or disagreeing about, it’s the fact that what WAS a private exchange between two individuals became a broadcast for the world to see. And while that might not be “legally” wrong, I think it is morally reprehensible.
And that wasn’t the first time I’d seen that happen. While I don’t know that I’ve seen it happen as to call it an epidemic, I think there is a growing attitude in our country—probably mirrored (IMO) from the growing reliance on government and all things public—that we are giving up our rights to privacy.
Now, if you and I have an email exchange and I want to share what you’ve said to me, I’LL ASK. That’s a different story. Me sharing your personal email is a very severe breach of trust and a lack of personal judgment.
Which brings me to…I recently learned something that disturbs me in this same manner. Now, let me be clear that I have not personally seen what I’m about to write about, but several of my colleagues have verified it’s truth…and that disturbs me even more.
It seems an entire “class” (meaning one graduation class) of students at the University where I teach share information with one another. What’s the big deal, you ask? That’s a great idea, you say. It’s just a study group, you point out.
If that were all it was, I’d agree wholeheartedly. In fact, I encourage all my classes to work hard to turn their classmates into their first ring in an ever-expanding network of contacts. Networking is key to success in the creative industries! It’s vital to their success.
Instead, this class is publicly sharing (“public,” as on Facebook) confidential and private emails and grades from their professors. Now, grades I could probably overlook. It isn’t unusual for students to want to share their grade with a classmate to see who ‘won’ or even see what the student with the lower grade can do to improve. I get that.
Instead, this class is sharing grades to see if the instructors are consistent. That is a noble idea…probably. But not likely.
Where I think the line gets crossed is in the sharing of private communication in such a public way. If I send you a private email, it is a betrayal of TRUST to take that and post it publicly…even in a semi-private forum. The exception, of course, would be threatening or abusive email—and then that should be shared with someone in authority, not the world.
The problem now is, there is no way that I could ever recommend anyone from that graduating class for any position with any of MY contacts. If they’re doing this now, they’ll do it again. And I value all the contacts in my own network—and I wouldn’t want to risk anyone breaching their trust in that way.
It was probably just a kneejerk reaction from a student that started it all…but it should have been shut down by the first instructor to discover it. It’s our job to not only teach our students to effectively tell good stories, but how to conduct themselves in a professional manner in all phases of their career. Sharing “private” email is not professional by any stretch of the imagination.